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A religion reading list from Oxford World’s Classics

By Kirsty Doole


Religion has provided the world with some of the most influential and important written works ever known. Here is a reading list made up of just a small selection of the texts we carry in the series, covering religions across the globe.

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People – Bede

Bede’s most famous work was finished in 731, and deals with the history of Christianity in England, most notably, the tension between Roman and Celtic forms of Christianity. It is one of the most important texts in English history. As well as providing the authoritative Colgrave translation of the Ecclesiastical History, the Oxford World’s Classics edition includes a translation of the Greater Chronicle, in which Bede discusses the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Bede’s Letter to Egbert gives further reflections on the English Church just before his death.

The Varieties of Religious Experience – William James

This work is William (brother of Henry) James’s classic survey of religious belief in its most personal aspects. Covering such topics as how we define evil to ourselves, the difference between a healthy and a divided mind, the value of saintly behaviour, and what animates and characterizes the mental landscape of sudden conversion, The Varieties of Religious Experience is a key text examining the relationship between belief and culture. At the time James wrote it, faith in organized religion and dogmatic theology was fading away, and the search for an authentic religion rooted in personality and subjectivity was something deemed an urgent necessity. With psychological insight, philosophical rigour, and a determination not to jump to the conclusion that in tracing religion’s mental causes we necessarily diminish its truth or value, in the Varieties James wrote a truly foundational text for modern belief.

Saint Augustine of Hippo On Christian Teaching – Saint Augustine

This is one of Saint Augustine’s most important works on the classical tradition. Written to enable students to have the skills to interpret the Bible, it provides an outline of Christian theology. It also contains a detailed discussion of moral problems. Further to that, Augustine attempts to determine what elements of classical education are desirable for a Christian, and suggests ways in which Ciceronian rhetorical principles may help in communicating faith.

The Book of Common Prayer

Along with the King James Bible, the words of the Book of Common Prayer have permeated deep into the English language all over the worldFor countless people, it has provided the framework for  a wedding ceremony or a funeral. Yet this familiarity also hides a violent and controversial history. When it was first written, the Book of Common Prayer provoked riots, and it was banned before eventually being translated into a host of global languages. This edition presents the work in three different states: the first edition of 1549, which brought the Reformation into people’s homes; the Elizabethan prayer book of 1559, familiar to Shakespeare and Milton; and the edition of 1662, which embodies the religious temper of the nation down to modern times.

The Qur’an

The Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Book, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over 1400 year ago. It is the supreme authority in Islam and the source of all Islamic teaching; it is both a sacred text and a book of guidance, that sets out the creed, rituals, ethics, and laws of Islam. The greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic, the message of the Qur’an was directly addressed to all people regardless of class, gender, or age, and this translation aims to be equally accessible to everyone.

Natural Theology – William Paley

Natural Theology is arguably as central to those who believe in Intelligent Design as Darwin’s Origin of Species is to those who come down on the side of evolutionary theory. In it, William Paley set out to prove the existence of God from the evidence of the order and beauty of the natural world. It famously starts by comparing our world to a watch, whose design is self-evident, before going on to provide examples from biology, anatomy, and astronomy in order to demonstrate the intricacy and ingenuity of design that could only come from a wise and benevolent deity. Paley’s work was both hugely successful, and extremely controversial, and Charles Darwin was greatly influenced by the book’s accessible style and structure.

The Bhagavad Gita

‘I have heard the supreme mystery, yoga, from Krishna, from the lord of yoga himself.’

So ends the Bhagavad Gita, the best known and most widely read Hindu religious text in the Western world. It is the most famous episode from the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. Across eighteen chapters Krishna’s teaching leads the warrior Arjuna from confusion to understanding, raising and developing many key themes from the history of Indian religions in the process.

It considers religious and social duty, the nature of action and of sacrifice, the means to liberation, and the relationship between God and human. It culminates in an awe-inspiring vision of Krishna as an omnipotent God, disposer and destroyer of the universe.

Kirsty Doole is Publicity Manager for Oxford World’s Classics.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

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Image credit: Saint Augustine of Hippo. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Recent Comments

  1. Robert Smith

    The omission of The Book of Mormon from this list is glaring.

  2. Brian

    I woud also suggest the Dhammapada, though I dont think OUP has an edition. This selection should be balanced out with some non-Christian works.

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